In the above list, meetings in which no legislative business was transacted are shown in italics, and adjournments lasting over a month are shown in brackets, after the session during which they occurred. The dates are taken from Commons Journals, except for the first Exclusion Parliament for which they have been taken from Grey.
From 1679 all except the Oxford Parliament were dissolved while they were under prorogation. The procedure, as a means of reducing political tension, appears to have been developed accidentally. The King had told the Privy Council that the Cavalier Parliament would be further prorogued to 25 Feb. 1679, but before the term of the last prorogation had expired he resolved on dissolution instead, so that he might take advantage of an offer from the leaders of the Opposition not to renew the impeachment of Lord Treasurer Danby in a new Parliament.1
Little is known about the circumstances surrounding the dissolution of the first Exclusion Parliament, except that it was ordered by the King against the advice of an overwhelming majority of the Privy Council, and nearly six weeks after the prorogation.2 The decision may have been made possible by the excess of confidence engendered by the crushing of the Scottish Covenanters at the battle of Bothwell Brig.
The Commons had sufficient notice of the intention to prorogue the second Exclusion Parliament in January 1681 to pass and record several damaging resolutions before Black Rod appeared. The practice of dissolving Parliament while under prorogation had not yet become standard, and bets were laid for and against a subsequent dissolution.3 But Reresby commented that the direct dissolution of the Oxford Parliament in March ‘was so little expected that some were of opinion there would have been some stirs or risings in London upon it’.4 Roger North excuses the abruptness as necessary ‘to prevent bad language, or worse, in parting votes’.5 Later in the year the King issued a declaration of his reasons for the two dissolutions, but he did not think it necessary to defend their manner.
James II’s Parliament lasted under prorogation for a year and a half, for it was only in 1687 that the King decided on a reversal of policy, in which its Tory and Anglican majority could be of no service to him. It is probable that the Revolution marks the point at which dissolution during prorogation hardened into a custom. There appears to have been no speculation about the recall of the Convention between 27 Jan. and 6 Feb. 1690.
Reresby, in his comment on the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, probably put his finger on the reason for generally preferring a less abrupt form of dismissal in the more excitable atmosphere of the capital. But no contemporary appears to have suggested that direct dissolution was unconstitutional. Indeed it was the alternative method, when first practised in January 1679, which is said to have aroused the scruples of the clerk of the Parliament.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
- 1. <em>HMC Ormonde</em>, n.s. iv. 306; <em>CSP Dom.</em> 1679-80, p. 52; Reresby, <em>Mems.</em> 168.
- 2. <em>Sidney Diary and Corresp.</em> i. 21; <em>HMC Ormonde</em>, n.s. v. 152.
- 3. <em>HMC Ormonde</em>, n.s. v. 549-50; Reresby, 209.
- 4. Reresby, 222.
- 5. <em>Examen</em>, 105.
- 6. <em>HMC 13th Rep. VI</em>, 11.